There's nothing that spoils a video project more than badly-shot footage. Some errors can be edited out, but it's better to avoid making them in the first place.
If your friends visibly pale at the mention of your holiday video, and even your gran won't watch the footage of little Timmy's first steps, then it's probably a sign that your techniques could use a little polish. Or possibly the video equivalent of root canal work - though slightly less painful and without the enormous dentist's bill at the end.
Some things can be adjusted in post production if you know how, but the old editing adage of "rubbish in, rubbish out" still holds true, so here are four of the most common mistakes and how you can avoid making them.
For Pete's sake, keep still
I like to think that I'm not an aggressive person, but seeing people blithely waving camcorders around with one hand really gets my goat. So, if you'd prefer not to have your shot spoilt by a red-faced lunatic flapping his arms and shouting "hold it properly!" in the background, hold your camcorder in both hands. Better still, a tripod, monopod, mini-pod, bean bag or even a rock, wall or table will provide a more stable support than your hand alone can.
And while we're on the topic, stop waving your camcorder around like a garden hose and zooming in and out with reckless abandon. Unless you actually want to induce motion sickness and nausea in your audience, pans and zooms are best kept to a minimum. The rule of thumb if you're not sure is to only zoom when you're not recording, and make pans slow, smooth and controlled. If your subject is moving fast, then go for a wider shot to avoid losing it off-screen.
Stay away from the light
There's no getting away from it: lighting is tricky, and never more so than when you're out and about. If your camcorder comes with a lens hood, then use it, as this will avoid lens flare and incorrect exposure caused by the wrong kind of light hitting the lens. Alternatively, you can use your hand to shade the lens - just make sure you don't get an errant digit in the field of view - or try to find a shadow to stand in.
Another problem is backlighting, which happens when your subject is standing in front of a strong light source, like a window. Your camcorder will probably have a backlight button that increases the exposure to stop your subject from becoming a silhouette. This is handy in a pinch, but also over-exposes the background.
Try to change camera positions to avoid the backlight if you can, failing that, apply some lighting to your subject to compensate either with a diffused video lamp, or better still, a reflector, which will help to avoid mixed light sources and white balance issues.
Getting it white
Most of us leave it up to our camcorders to set the white balance of the scene we're shooting, and to be fair, this is usually okay. But it's better practice to set the white balance manually to make sure that your camera gets it right, and there are two ways you can do this.
The first is to use one of the camera's white balance presets - tungsten, daylight, fluorescent and cloudy are common settings - to match the predominant lighting conditions. The second is to set the white balance manually, and this requires nothing more than a sheet of white paper. Hold it up in front of the lens and press the manual white balance key on your camcorder, and you'll get a more accurate video colour temperature from your footage.
Put a sock in it
Consumer camcorders rarely come with decent internal microphones, and space-saving designs often put them on the top and at the back of the unit, which is about the worst place for them to be.
Thanks to the inverse square law - which I won't go into here - this means that any noise that you make will drown out your subject. So try to keep vocal instructions to a minimum, and stifle any urges you have to laugh, belch or sneeze while the little red light is on.
Better still, get yourself a wired (or even wireless, if you're feeling particularly solvent) external microphone that you can put closer to your subject. This will help isolate the audio you want to hear, from the ambient noise you don't. It'll also cut out the whirrs, whines and hums from your camera's internal workings, too.
The pan and zoom effect - a hardy perennial for documentary makers who use it with photographs and documents - is quickly gaining favour in consumer video productions, making still images more interesting and mobile. With Studio 9 Plus, Pinnacle has added an intuitive twist to the usual control set, allowing you to take the position and zoom values from the previous image in the timeline and use them as the starting point for the current clip. This lets you quickly build up complex sequences far more easily.
Say, for instance, that you wanted to map out the route you took on your holidays. Find a map of the world off the Web and import it into Studio 9 Plus. Then drag it onto the timeline and open the Pan and Zoom tool (note that earlier copies do not have this tool). Check the Set Start radio button then zoom in on and position the clip where you want it to start (in my case, Sydney). Now check the Set End radio button and adjust the position of the map so that it's at your first waypoint (I've chosen Morocco - where, incidentally, I got rather extravagant food poisoning once). This will give you a nice controlled pan across the map from one point to the next - and Studio automatically throws in a rather nice velocity envelope tweak that makes transitions from one point to the next a lot smoother.
But that's only the first leg of the trip. To create the next leg, drag and drop a new instance of your world map next to the existing clip, open the Pan and Zoom tool again, check the Set Start radio button and hit the Match Previous Clip button. This then copies the end point values of the previous clip and applies them to the start point values of the new one, so all you need to do is click on Set End and add your next destination. And so on, until you reach the end of the sequence, which will then travel smoothly between all your destinations from beginning to end. All you need to do now is add a black and white filter, overlay some stock footage of an old aeroplane flying over the sea and a suitably adventurous soundtrack (I'd recommend the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark if it wasn't copyrighted), and your sequence is done.